Sunday, May 13, 2018

PROGRESS Chapter 68: Super Strong Style 16 Night One

PROGRESS Chapter 68: Super Strong Style 16 Night One
May 5th, 2018 | Alexandra Palace in Alexandra Park, London 

It’s that time of the year again. In 2017, the Super Strong Style 16 was my favorite tournament, beating out the G1 Climax, UK Title Tournament, and the Mae Young Classic. Admittedly, PROGRESS hasn’t been as strong in 2018 as it was in 2017 (when it was my pick for promotion of the year), but the field is loaded and I’m pumped for this event To make it bigger than ever, the three shows take place at Alexandra Palace, where the massive Chapter 55 happened last year.

PROGRESS debuted a new ring for this show. Jim Smallman gave a shoutout to the fans who traveled far to come here and put over how great professional wrestling is.

Super Strong Style 16 First Round: Doug Williams vs. WWE United Kingdom Champion Pete Dunne
Dunne works a mask during his entrance. This was one of my highest anticipated matches of the first round. This opened with some pleasantries, as the guys exchanges some good old fashioned grappling. Williams had the upper hand at every turn. He was just uses his veteran knowhow to outsmart his young counterpart. Once Dunne began to get going, the pace of the match picked up. That worked more for Dunne until he ran into an Exploder, followed by the Bomb Scare Knee Drop for two. I totally bit on a Chaos Theory near fall, partially because Dunne only survived due to getting a foot on the rope, and partially because I love that move so much. They closed the match with a series of counters that saw Dunne block another Chaos Theory with a rollup and win in 10:50. Great way to start the show. They told a simple story, one that I almost always love, had some great wrestling, and delivered a highly entertaining match. More of this, please. [***½]

Super Strong Style 16 First Round: Chuck Mambo vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
Mambo was greeted with a ton of beach balls thrown in the ring, showing he was clearly popular. Sabre was more serious. He’s also been one of the best wrestlers of 2018 so far. The story saw Sabre manage to twist Mambo in strange ways, but Chuck brought enough fire to find ways to combat it. That included a nice somersault to the outside. Once Sabre grounded him, it was mostly the dominant, confident Sabre we’ve come to expect. Still, Mambo refused to quit and brought a ton of energy in his comeback attempts. He went into a wild flurry, including the Chuck You neckbreaker, but it wasn’t enough. Mambo survived a lot, kicking out of two PKs. He went for a frog splash, but ate Sabre’s knees. Another PK still wasn’t enough. WHAT? He exchanged palm strikes with Sabre, until he got trapped in a ridiculous dragon sleeper and had to tap out in 10:48. Way better than I expected. Mambo’s best showing ever. Tons of energy, a resilient performance, and the right opponent, as Sabre did everything so well. [***¾]

Super Strong Style 16 First Round: David Starr vs. TK Cooper
Starr got to come out to Joan Jett, as it looks like PROGRESS brought back more recognizable music. Usually, one of the best parts of a David Starr match is his introduction. Mega heel TK Cooper got all the heat for interrupting it with a kick to the head. That set the tone for a fast paced match. Cooper hit a dive outside and was ready for the Jewish Cannon attack, having done his homework. The strikes they’d trade were stiffer and more vicious than you might expect from them. TK busted out a sweet 450 splash for one of the better close calls of the match. Starr escaped Rihanna more than once, before countering it into the Blackheart Buster to advance in 9:44. Another good match, though one that lacked something to take it to the next level. Surprisingly, the crowd wasn’t as invested as you’d think. [***]

Super Strong Style 16 First Round: Angelico vs. Mark Andrews
Angelico got to come out to “Bangarang” by Skrillex, which was dope. These are two of the top high flyers in the world, which reminds me of Andrews facing Flamita in last year’s first round. They exchanged some athletic stuff without much physicality to start. Then, Eddie Dennis strolled out and waved at Andrews, before taking a seat in the crowd. With the distraction, Angelico was able to take control. Even when Andrews made his comeback and got on the offensive, he’d stop to jaw with Dennis. It’s clear he’s in Andrews’ head. It boiled down to a highlight of a spot where they struggled on a super rana/powerbomb counter battle. It looked great. Andrews used it to set up the SSP, but another Dennis distraction made him miss. Angelico hit the Crucifix Buckle Bomb for the win in 14:16. Some of the early stuff didn’t work for me. However, they picked it up really well late and the Andrews/Dennis storyline continues to intrigue. [***¼]

Super Strong Style 16 First Round: Jordan Devlin vs. Tyler Bate
Tyler got to come out to “Sledgehammer.” This was up there with Dunne/Williams as my most anticipated. The crowd was more split than I expected. They opened with some mat work, before Devlin put the focus on Bate’s arms. Before the damage got too bad, Bate was able to show off some of the impressive strength he’s known for. Even with the strong arm work, Devlin still resorted to some underhanded tactics whenever possible, like pushing the referee to the ropes to crotch Bate on the top. He followed that with a Spanish Fly for a great near fall. Bate fought him off and hit the Tyler Driver ’97 to secure the win in 9:10. Shorter than I hoped, but very good for what it was. The arm work and selling was mostly strong, while Devlin looked much better than the guy we saw in the WWE UK Tournament last January. I hope he sticks around as PROGRESS can use new guys like him. [***¼]

The PROGRESS Tag Team Champions, Grizzled Young Vets, came out as they were apparently sharing a spot in the tournament. The opponent was Joey Janela. Gibson went on a LONG rant, even longer than usual. He bragged about Liverpool getting to the Champion’s League final, before eventually being hit by Joey Janela. They proceeded to brawl all around the arena and onto the stage. Up there, Janela took out Drake with a cannonball, before leaping over the steps and taking out Gibson. It made it to the ring, where Drake was put inside. Gibson declared that they hadn’t decided which member would compete. Drake tried a sneak attack, but Janela was ready with a German suplex. Gibson entered to jump Janela and it was finally official that he would be in the match.

Super Strong Style 16 First Round: Joey Janela vs. Zack Gibson w/ James Drake
The referee didn’t even want to start the match. He reluctantly did after Drake begged him. Janela nearly beat him with an inside cradle instantly. Janela superkicked Drake off the apron and got rolled up to lose in 0:14. Much more of an angle than a match. The angle worked well, with the crowd being into it and it showcasing how the Tag Team Champions’ numbers advantage will be a problem in this tournament. [NR]

Super Strong Style 16 First Round: Flash Morgan Webster w/ Vicky Haskins vs. Keith Lee
Last November, these two had a very good match at Chapter 57 (***½). However, Flash is now working as a heel, so that’ll give it an interesting take, considering he played plucky underdog last time. He attacked Lee during his entrance with a dive and kept the pressure on. Once the bell officially rang, Flash did his best to keep Lee on the defensive. He made the classic little man mistake of trying to sunset flip the big man. Lee responded with a RIDICULOUS Spirit Bomb. The only reason the match didn’t end there was because Flash bounced to the outside. Lee dominated following that, but Flash showed flashes, pun intended, of his old babyface self. He threw everything he had at Lee in an effort to level the playing field. His reverse rana spot was fantastic. He hit Shadows Over Malice, but Lee simply grabbed hold of him and hit another Spirit Bomb for a great near fall. A few more Shadows Over Malice hit and it still wasn’t enough. The finish came when Flash went to use his helmet as a weapon, but hesitated. That allowed Lee to hit Ground Zero and win after 14:16. A strong sequel to their first match. Lee is a great big man, while Flash showed what made him work as a babyface. It continued the story of him joining Vicky Haskins, but still not seeming 100% comfortable with it all. [***½]

Vicky was disappointed and walked off without Flash.

Super Strong Style 16 First Round: Chris Brookes vs. Kassius Ohno
Ohno is on loan from the WWE, which is fantastic. Not enough people talked about how cool that was. The crowd was hot for Ohno’s return. We got the expected mat work during a feeling out process. Apparently, Brookes was a big fan of Chris Hero. That meant he was prepared for a lot of Ohno’s signature offense. Still, Ohno is one of the best ever and he methodically picked Brookes apart. Brookes managed to get in some of his high flying stuff, while Ohno brought the big blows that just rocked him. The final stretch was great, seeing all sorts of near falls and close calls on some great offense from both men. I got a kick out of Brookes hitting a brainbuster, as well as his ability to avoid Death by Elbow. When he turned the second attempt into a crucifix pin, I thought it was over. Ohno finally managed to connect on one and win at 21:52. This was a very good main event. It had a steady build and Brookes got to show a lot of heart. However, I don’t think anyone bought him winning outside of one spot. [***½]

Overall: 8/10. Such a fun show. Sure, nothing was must watch or reached four stars, but everything was over three stars. Even the segment involving Grizzled Young Vets was a lot of fun. And, being under three hours, the entire show just moves at a brisk pace and nothing feels long. My kind of event. I suspect the higher quality matches to come on the next two nights.